FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — The 2018 Giro d’Italia’s early start list surfaced overnight with Chris Froome backed by an always-strong Team Sky and eight-man teams, a first for modern grand tours.

The Italian grand tour starts May 4 in Jerusalem.

Organizer RCS Sport released the list Tuesday with 22 teams, 18 from the WorldTour and four from the Pro Continental ranks. Froome, 32, stands out among the 176 riders in the field.

According to the preliminary list, Froome will be backed by David De La Cruz, Philip Deignan, Sergio Henao, Vasil Kiryienka, Christian Knees, Wout Poels, and Salvatore Puccio. There are some familiar names, riders on whom Froome relied for his four Tour de France victories, and newer faces like De La Cruz. The Spaniard rode strongly in the last two editions of the Vuelta a España and transferred from Quick-Step Floors to Sky over the winter.

Despite his strong ride for Froome at the recent Tour of the Alps, Kenny Elissonde does not appear on Sky’s lineup. An insider told VeloNews, however, that the team will officially announce its roster on Friday and that one of the names on its provisional start list is likely to change. It’s unclear who that would be.

Racing the Giro d’Italia on the back of his 2017 Tour and Vuelta victories will be a challenge and, if he can pull it off, a rare feat for Froome. He has never raced for the Giro overall, only starting it twice in 2009 and 2010 before he became a Tour de France star.

“I’m a lot closer to being ready for the Giro than I was at Tirreno-Adriatico and we’ve still got two weeks now. It’s been a perfect buildup to the Giro d’Italia,” Froome said after finishing the Tour of the Alps last week.

“The Giro is a whole new challenge for me and a new motivation for me too. It’s a huge challenge to target the Giro d’Italia after winning the Tour and Vuelta last year, and it’s a huge motivation for me to go for my third consecutive grand tour win.”

Tom Dumoulin is being billed as the rider to take on Froome, not only in the Giro but in future editions of the Tour, thanks to his time trial strength and climbing ability.

“I hope to gain a little on him in the time trial, then he has to attack me on the climbs,” Dumoulin said on how to beat Froome. “And then it’s up to him to attack, and up to me to follow. That would be a good scenario for me.”

To make it possible, Team Sunweb is backing Dumoulin with an even better team than in 2017. RCS Sport listed his seven helpers: Sam Oomen, Laurens Ten Dam, Louis Vervaeke, Lennard Hofstede, Chris Hamilton, Chad Haga, and Roy Curvers.

The other overall favorites include Canadian Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac), Tour of the Alps winner Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Miguel Angel López (Astana), Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), and Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates (both Mitchelton-Scott).

“My win was ideal preparation for the Giro,” Pinot said after his Tour of the Alps triumph. “I came here to win, now I am ready for the Giro.”

“Is Simon Yates working for me? I know that was a trick question! I think you need to ask Matt White, our DS,” said Chaves, who finished second in the 2016 Giro.

“I don’t want to think about that yet, that’s a question for ‘Whitey.’ I’d be happy to help him if he’s in a good position, and I know he’d be happy to help me.

“This team is different than the other teams, it’s not just one person, but one team all together. The result for the team matters the most.”

Mitchelton-Scott races with Chaves and Yates as its leaders, with helpers Sam Bewley, Jack Bauer, Christopher Juul Jensen, Roman Kreuziger, Svein Tuft, and Mikel Nieve on its lineup.

“I know Froome is the star rider on the list, but you can’t go crazy about the other teams or riders,” Chaves added.

“You need to do the best you can and just control what you can. The other things you can’t control, the teams, the rivals, the crashes … a lot of stuff you can’t control and you shouldn’t waste your energy on it. That’s it. Just keep it simple like always. Simple is the best.”

Woods placed second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège last Sunday. In 2017, he rode for Pierre Rolland in the Giro and finished seventh overall at the Vuelta. This year, the squad is giving him the reins for the Giro with support that includes Nathan Brown, Brendan Canty, Hugh Carthy, Mitchell Docker, Joe Dombrowski, Sacha Modolo, and Tom Van Asbroeck.

“Now it’s going to be a big test at the Giro with the weight of being leader,” Woods said in February. “I’m honored and I have a lot of responsibility.”

Given the Giro’s terrain with eight summit finishes and many mixed stages, the sprinters tend to shy away from the three-week race. The fast men on the preliminary start list include Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Sacha Modolo (EF Education First), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo), and Danny Van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo).